Disclosure ‐ Out thanks go out to Zowie for lending us the Celeritas II for this review.
Mechanical keyboards are one of those gaming and computer accessories which are easily overlooked when putting together a new (or even upgrading an old) gaming system. They are one of the hardest working pieces of the kit and can easily be skimped over. I have used many types of keyboards over the years, from the g15 all the way back in 2005, through to the later g610 mechanical keyboard more recently. When you have a few computers, you find yourself going through a few boards.
After trying a mechanical keyboard for the first time, I quickly became hooked. The domed membrane technology of cheaper or older keyboards wears over time and can become quite difficult to use. The introduction of the different Cherry switches brought into the market a much more fluid, consistent, and uniform typing experience; something that I have enjoyed for the last couple of years.
With the release of the Celeritas II, a new mechanical gaming keyboard from Zowie, I was given the chance to explore the latest in the evolution of the high-performance gaming keyboard. Who needs mechanical when you can have optical?
Zowie produces gaming accessories that have proven themselves to be exceptional bits of kit. I have often mentioned this, when looking at their monitors, how they are so perfectly suited to their purpose. They recognise one of the key pillars of design, that is the need to design products which are suited to the needs of the user. They target professional and serious gamers, and they deliver products which perform to an extremely high standard.
The change to optical switches in the Celeritas II keyboard reflect this philosophy of delivering the best results possible. The membrane switches, used only in the cheaper devices, behave in a way not too dissimilar to that of a touchpad; everything is wired into one skin and the location you touch is then sent back to the PC. This particular form is quite easy to produce but can have lifetime and responsive issues as the pockets in the membrane age. Mechanical keyboards on the other hand individually spring and trigger allowing for a more responsive and firm compression.
The optical switch takes this simple, yet more technically challenging development approach, one step further by moving away from physical actuators (or triggers) to one that is instead controlled by light. Rather than detecting a toggle, it measures the movement of key. For the Celeritas II keyboard, this brings many benefits, the most valuable of which is the lack of points of failure. Each button has a single moving component – a spring. With only this there is much less risk of wear and tear, reduced instances of double button presses happening (also known as the dreaded sticky keys) and as such a much longer life.
One of the other advantages of the make-up of the Zowie Celeritas keyboard is that the individual actuators used throughout the board are individually set into the keyboard. This means that in the event of a failure, it can be repaired on a key-by-key basis. While it is not something that would be expected to happen within a short period of owning the keyboard, the very existence of that option shows that Zowie is not wanting to force you to trash and replace, but instead to treat this bit of kit as something that can have an extended life.
Of course, when it comes to tech, it is not just about the stats or the physical properties. There are certain considerations that transcend technical stats or physical capabilities of a piece of hardware. Key layout, texture, rebound, plug and play, and key disabling; these all contribute to a great experience with a keyboard. Fortunately, Zowie has you covered.
The keyboard follows the standard of a short shift and tall enter. For someone who is more used to the inverse, this can take a little getting used to, it is not something that feels bad, especially when gaming, but you might notice something with regular typing. My fat fingers may disagree as I regularly hit both “|” & “?” at the same time (but that is also something that happens all over the keyboard, especially as I type faster).
The keyboard otherwise has a texture I would generally consider smooth matte with a comfortable amount of spring in their step. The keys feel pleasant to rest your fingers on, while the strength of the springs are well balanced, only requiring minimal additional force to commit a command. Where there are keys which can interfere with your ability to engage with the game (ahem, windows button) there are no keyboard shortcuts to allow you to disable the button without difficulty.
Plug and play is something that you would think would be easy to use. However, more accessories have been getting it wrong rather than right. If you have to install drivers or additional programs to get a reasonable default performance then something is wrong. I am using my Logitech mechanical keyboard at work at the moment and the lights are animated in a wave. I cannot turn this off without installing drivers and it is super annoying. The Razor Man o’ war wireless headset automatically routes the mic back through the headset, something that is super annoying and something which could only be disabled by installing the Razor software and creating an account. When I plug in the Celeritas II, it just works. The back-lighting is simple and not distracting, the features can be adjusted with keyboard shortcuts, and there is no need to install third-party software.
By keeping these sort of features and elements to the bare minimum, Zowie has managed to produce a tool that feels tidy and tight. It is not drowning in additional buttons or macro keys and it isn’t sprouting funky or unnecessary features. It wants to create a distraction-free and easy-to-use device. The Celeritas II is a perfect example of form and functional design. It set out to create an experience, and it has delivered in spades!
In summing up, the review copy of the keyboard has impressed me so much that about halfway through the testing period, I realised that I really dreaded having to send it back. I went out and purchased one at regular retail for myself. I like it enough to put my money where my mouth is. This subtle a keyboard that is a charm to use and bespoke in its features and I would happily recommend this to anyone with a competitive bent.